Meet the Six High-Schoolers Who Have Qualified to Run at the Olympic Trials

Juggling homework, other sports, and general teenage life, these runners are also training for the Trials.

6/10/2021 11:03:00 PM

Juggling homework, other sports, and general teenage life, these runners are also training for the Trials.

Juggling homework, other sports, and general teenage life, these runners are also training for the Trials.

competed for Ireland in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Now she’s using her experience as an elite runner to support her daughter’s Olympic aspirations.“[Dennehy-Willis] was really helpful because even though the stuff I went through this year was tough—not getting the standard when I was hoping to—she has gone through things that have been much more difficult, missing an Olympic team one year, but then coming back and making one four years later,” Willis said. “So having someone who is that resilient in my family, I think helps. She understands how I was feeling.”

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Willis is one of three teenagers who will be running the women’s 800 meters at the Trials. Willis and fellow qualifiers Sophia Gorriarian and Juliette Whittaker have bonded this season by racing each other and achieving times that only a few athletes their age have ever run before. In January, Willis, Gorriarian, Whittaker, and Bailey Goggans joined forces to

break the world U-20 recordfor the indoor 4x800-meter relay. And they have been encouraging each other in their historic efforts ever since.“I think sometimes competitive athletes can just get too competitive and forget that they can be friends, so the fact that all three of us are close and friends, I think that's why we've all been so successful this year,” Willis said. “We have people to look up to that are just running so well, and when I see them get those standards, it inspires me to do the same, but also just the support that we all have for each other is so important as well.”

Sophia GorriaranIn February, the 15-year-old sophomore from Moses Brown School (Providence, Rhode Island) ran 2:02.44 to qualify for the Olympic Trials. Gorriaran hit the standard in a field of pros at the American Track League indoor meet in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The effort is considered a new world U-18 indoor best, according to

MileSplit.In addition to being one of the fastest 800-meter prep runners ever, Gorriaran is just as talented on the lacrosse field. In May,NBC 10followed Gorriaran on a training day, which started with a full day of school followed by lacrosse practice at 3:30 p.m. At 6 p.m, she went to practice at the track, which was followed by a weight room session at 8 p.m. and homework at 9:30 p.m.

While competing in both sports has presented challenges at times, Gorriaran said she has found a balance by giving each sport top priority at separate times during the season.Sophia Gorriaran runs in the women’s 800m at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on February 13, 2021

Kevin Morris“It’s been a little harder trying to manage the training and the meets with the lacrosse games and lacrosse practices because some days I would have lacrosse for three hours and then track practice after that, which was really hard to do,” Gorriaran told

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Runner’s World. “For a while, I’ve just been focusing on lacrosse and track was kind of after it. Now I’m focusing more on track right now leading up to the Trials.”As the youngest athlete to compete in Eugene, Gorriaran is embracing the rare opportunity to race against the best while maintaining a long term approach.

“I’m just hoping to go out there, try my best, see if I can make it through the first round, and see how I compare to all these professional runners and other high school runners,” she said. “I’m looking forward to getting a chance to get the experience and go to the Trials and see what it’s like. Hopefully in 2024, I’ll be back there again.”

Juliette Whittakerqualified early in the season, running the indoor 800 meters in 2:02.07 at the Virginia Showcase on January 16—the third-fastest indoor time ever run by a high schooler. Prior to her performance in Virginia Beach, her personal best was 2:03.01.

Explaining her big breakthrough, Whittaker used the meet as motivation when training during the pandemic. On race day, the Maryland native said she removed any pressure from herself and focused on running relaxed, which paid off when she ran well below the 2:02.5 Olympic Trials standard.

“I thought I could do it, but it was definitely a surprise,” Whittaker toldRunner’s World. “I was so shocked. ... It was nice to get [the standard] by a good amount and have it for the rest of the season, so I didn’t really have to stress about it anymore.”

More Runners Training for the TrialsTennis, Basketball, Olympic Track Trials. Why Not?Like Willis, Whittaker also comes from a family of elite runners. Her parents, Paul and Jill, ran at Georgetown. Her older sister, Bella, runs for Penn and her older brother, Alex, is on the team at Yale. During the COVID-adjusted season, the sisters trained for their respective events at the track together (Bella runs the 200 and 400 meters), which encouraged Whittaker in a difficult year.

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“When I see [Bella] working really hard or training really hard, it pushes me and inspires me to be a better runner too,” Whittaker said. “She’s very supportive and always the first person to text me before the race and the first person to text me after.”

In the same race Willis qualified for the Olympic Trials, Whittaker lowered her personal best by finishing third in 2:01.34 and Gorriarian finished fifth in 2:02.93 at the Trials of Miles NYC Qualifier on May 21. On June 4, Whittaker improved on her personal best again by winning the John Hay Pennsylvania Distance Festival in 2:01.15. Heading into the Olympic Trials, Whittaker is using the same relaxed approach that helped her get the standard. Now she has the goal of advancing and running another personal best.

“It’ll be such a cool experience to go there at all, so I’m not really stressed about how I do,” Whittaker said. “I’ll learn what it’s like to run rounds because I’ve never run rounds before, and race really competitive, high-level athletes. It’ll just be such a cool experience that I’ll always have and be able to use for years to come.”

This content is imported from {embed-name}. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.Erriyon KnightonOn May 31, the high school junior from Tampa, Florida, took down a record set by the best sprinter in the world. At the American Track League meet in Jacksonville, Florida, Knighton came from behind to beat 100-meter Olympic favorite Trayvon Bromell and

break the world junior 200-meter recordset by Usain Bolt in 2003.Knighton improved on his previous 20.33 personal best to win the heat in 20.11 over Bromell, who finished second in 20.20. The 17-year-old’s victory dipped well below Bolt’s 20.13 performance from 18 years ago.

This content is imported from YouTube. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.Knighton turned pro in January after a 2020 track season that included a dominant 20.33 victory at the AAU Junior Olympics. The performance made him the second-fastest sprinter ever among athletes under 18 years-old. According to

Track & Field News, Knighton started sprinting on the advice of his high school football coach and turned down football scholarship offers to pursue a career on the track.“Knowing that I grew up around football my whole life, and receiving a lot of D1 offers, it was a tough decision, but it was also a no-brainer,” Knighton told

. “In track, the success of my career is fully in my hands, and I know that I can do it.”Heading into the Olympic Trials, Knighton’s 200-meter time is rankedso far this season.Jaylen SladeIMG Academy’s top sprinter started the season with a historic performance. In February, Slade broke the

U.S. high school recordby winning the indoor 200 meters in 20.62 at the American Track League meet in Fayetteville, Arkansas.Slade improved on the previous record of 20.63 set by 2019 world 200-meter champion Noah Lyles, who ran the mark in 2016 while he was competing for T.C. Williams High School.

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